When I met my first four-star general, a UT grad, I was shell-shocked. I expected a dull ceremony and a bureaucrat full of platitudes. But Gen. Bob Cone, MA ’87, who commands all training for the Army, showed up in fatigues and got blunt fast.
He admitted to Army shortcomings. He compared past training regimens to Mr. Potato Head. “We’re terrible bureaucratically,” he said. “We do brain surgery with an ax, is how we go about business.”
I was surprised that such a high-level leader would be so candid.
I had the same thought over the summer when I interviewed another four-star leader, Navy Adm. Bill McRaven, BJ ’77. As head of the United States Special Operations Command, McRaven oversaw the raid that brought down Osama bin Laden. Like Cone, McRaven was disarmingly honest. “I’ve failed many, many times,” he admitted.
The female military leaders UT has educated have been equally impressive. Before she retired, Vice Adm. Vivien Crea, BA ’72, was one of the highest-ranking women ever in the Coast Guard. Over in the Air Force, Col. Jeannie Leavitt, BS ’90, recently became the first woman to command a combat fighter wing.
Yet when people think of Texas and the military, the first school that pops to mind is invariably A&M, not UT. I was fascinated by that public opinion gap—and by the fact that a school that fiercely protested war during the Vietnam era had previously educated thousands of veterans from the two world wars and supported troops loyally. Over its 129-year history, UT has not been cool toward the military—far from it.
Our story on the military’s past and present on the Forty Acres (“ROTC on the Rise”) explores that. It highlights the way the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program is attracting better cadets, performing well in competition, and constructing new building space. And it mentions that UT recently opened a Student Veterans Center and was named one of the friendliest campuses in the country to vets.
Taken together, our prominent alumni leaders and recent initiatives show that UT has been underrated for too long when it comes to its military presence. (Tell your Aggie friends.)
Not coincidentally, we also have a story in this issue about a certain UT grad who went into the military, Josh Rushing (“Being the Bridge“). Rushing, BA ’99, went through ROTC as a Marine. Then—believing that the chasm in understanding between East and West needed to be bridged—he left to help found Al-Jazeera English.
Rushing’s story is surprising, especially since it’s about a blue-eyed Texan who took up Arabic unprompted. The same spirit of service that drove Cone, McRaven, Crea, and Leavitt to the military also drove Rushing. In each case, their education and military training did not mean forsaking free thought or expression. In fact, it’s that very combination of tradition and education, service and candor, that makes Longhorn military leaders stand out in service to our country. The Aggies are rightly proud of their campus’ military tradition. So too should we be of ours.
—Lynn Freehill, Editor
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Cheryl McDowell Hawkins:
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